Women who make a difference in the food industry

I have had the opportunity to work for food companies (meat products, rice, oil, and dehydrated products), in which I have seen the leadership and the differential footprint that defines women in different roles: women who are distinguished by four characteristics: vision, commitment, responsibility and high human sensitivity. For this reason, in Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight their role in the food industry since, in recent decades, they have gained greater visibility and recognition.

In such a globally crucial productive sector, the role of women continues to influence the growth of sales and food safety with creative and innovative proposals, in which “the cherry on the cake” is noted for the significant contributions and the striking staging of achievements that are framed in the success of the industry and equal opportunities.

According to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in emerging countries and half of the world’s food, highlighting their role in the food industry.

With their high sensitivity to crystallize ideas, women leave their impression in areas ranging from cultivation, production, logistics, and sales so that the industry develops in safer environments and free of toxic components.

Here are some remarkable cases of women who have chosen their purpose: to contribute to the food industry by being stewards of the ecosystem, human nutrition, and equity.

Marilyn Hershey, Pennsylvania (USA)

Spokesperson for the use of renewable energy in the dairy industry. Distinguished in 2023 as one of the “Leaders of Rurality of the Americas” by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), a recognition that highlights men and women who make a difference in the work of the field in the United States, to ensure food security, nutrition and environmental sustainability of the planet.

Marilyn has devoted her life and career to dairy farming since she was a child, lives on a dairy farm, and is the president of Dairy Management Inc., an association of U.S. dairy farmers that promotes research and education to encourage milk consumption in the country. In her intention to contribute to the sector, Marilyn has implemented some better practices.

Since 2017, she has been using farm equipment called Biodigester to convert cow manure into biogas, a renewable energy source that she uses to power her farm operations and the local electricity grid. This has positively impacted reducing the carbon footprint generated by her milk production chain and the consumption of non-clean energies.

Related Article: The Tortilla Queen: Veronica Moreno, Co-Founder and President of Olé Mexican Foods

Maria Isabel Andrade, Cape Verde (South Africa)

Improved seeds for biofortified crops. B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. in Plant Breeding. For more than 30 years, she has led research projects at the National Research Institute of Cape Verde, the FAO Research Institute of Cape Verde, FAO, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. One of her main contributions has been to implement the accelerated breeding and distribution of healthy planting material of the best high-yielding cassava and sweet potato varieties in southern Africa; foods considered a worldwide source of energy and Vitamin A supply.

Her dedication to research has led her to excel in seed breeding systems, the improvement of producers’ value chains, and technology transfer, impacting the quality of the generation of healthy material for planting.

In 2013, she was named Champion of Nutrition by Transform Nutrition; in 2016, she was co-winner of the World Food Prize; and in 2017, she won the M.S. Swaminathan Environmental Protection Award.

Paula Santilli, Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Passion for gender equity in business. She graduated in Communication Sciences and Advertising in Buenos Aires and has a postgraduate degree in Marketing and International Studies. She became the CEO of PepsiCo Latin America in 2019 and joined the Executive Committee of PepsiCo Global in 2020. Today, she is recognized as one of the most powerful women in business by Fortune.

She manages PepsiCo’s product portfolio, which consists of 23 brands and covers 34 emerging and developing markets in Mexico, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Additionally, she oversees over 70,000 employees and 40 manufacturing facilities. She leads the company’s efforts to grow its sales budget, which exceeds $8 billion.

Paula is committed to diversity and inclusion and the well-being of the communities in which PepsiCo operates.

She promotes a program that seeks to accelerate the development of women executives within the company, to have half of all management positions held by women by 2025.

In 2020, she received the “Exceptional Women of Excellence” award from the Women Economic Forum. She sees herself as someone vocal, assertive, and unafraid to speak her mind. She is a multi-talented woman, executive, and writer of several books reinforcing women’s empowerment in Latin America.